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Dan Dan Noodles

Sunday morning saw me up and alert early for once and off to Brixton’s Farmers’ Market. I was hoping to pick up some rhubarb, but it might be a little early in the season for it here in London. I did however pick up some venison mince in all its rich ruby red glory. The low fat content and good quality appealed to me, but I had no firm plans on what to do with it.

I meandered home and sat down with a coffee and a fresh pretzel from the market to read the Observer Food Monthly, chuckling to myself at their amazement that people, especially chefs, ever eat alone when I espied a recipe for Dan-Dan noodles that looked like it would work perfectly with my venison mince. These could be described as the Chinese equivalent of spaghetti bolognese, since they combine noodles and meat, but with a delicious warming chili kick. I first had them at the fabulous Baozi Inn in Chinatown, but despite loving them, I had never thought to make them myself. I have no idea if this Jamie Oliver recipe is authentic or not but it gave me something to work with…

1 beef or chicken stock cube

500g minced beef

2 tbs runny honey

300g wheat noodles

4 handfuls of mixed green veg(Chinese cabbage, sprouting broccoli, bok choi, spinach)

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

3 tbs dark soy sauce

2 tsp freshly ground Szechuan pepper

5 tbs good-quality chilli oil (see below)

2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced

1 lime, quartered, to serve

Crumble your stock cube into a large pan of water and get it on the heat. Add the beef to a dry pan and, on a medium to high heat, keep moving it around until it’s golden and crunchy, which will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour away any excess fat, then add the honey and toss until all the mince is nicely coated. Cook for about 30 seconds, then take the pan off the heat.

Stir your noodles into the boiling stock and move them about a bit so they don’t stick together. Cook according to the packet instructions. Shred your cabbage into 1cm strips, quarter your bok choi and snap up the broccoli spears. When the noodles have 1 minute to go, throw in the prepared greens to blanch them. Drain the whole lot in a colander, reserving a mugful of the cooking water. Tip your noodles, veg and the water back into the hot pan.

Add your garlic, soy sauce, Szechuan pepper and chilli oil. Give it all a good mix with tongs and divide among 4 bowls. Sprinkle over the crunchy beef , finish with a scattering of spring onions and serve each dish with a lime quarter to squeeze over.

Once I got over the irony of the recipe being for 4 people in an article about eating alone, I used Marigold Bouillon powder to make the stock as it is easier to measure for one person than a stockcube. I left the honey out because frankly sweetened savoury dishes give me the heebie-jeebies and I didn’t have any bok choi, so I substituted some curly kale instead. Apart from the fact I also reduced the amount of chili oil hugely, the rest of the recipe was pretty similar.

The venison mince dry fried beautifully, becoming deliciously crumbly in the pan on a high heat, due to the lack of the usual watery fat you get in regular beef mince. Beef or pork mince would have needed draining and more cooking to achieve the right texture to go with the noodles. I misread the recipe slightly and stupidly only reserved a cupful (or 120ml) of the cooking liquid rather than the mugful suggested, meaning my finished dish had very little liquid, but this didn’t spoil it in anyway. It was still a delicious combination of soft slurpy noodles with crumbly nuggets of full flavoured meat, crunchy leaf vegetables and the refreshing chili kick you would expect from Szechuan food.

On top of that, it created very little washing up and is a marvellously quick recipe for using up the last little bits of cabbage or broccoli lurking in the back of your fridge. All in all, a perfect one person meal, especially as you can customise the chili to your own level each time, which is just the ticket on a cold winter day!